By Kirby Arnold, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – Their day started with an emotional pep talk from legendary former driver Lyn St. James and ended with a lament that showed they’re real racers.
The woman-dominated Paretta Autosport team finished 31st Sunday in the Indianapolis 500 after driver Simona de Silvestro’s brakes failed before a late-race stop and she spun in the pits.
Disappointing as it was after running inside the top 25 earlier in the race, the effort was a source of pride for owner Beth Paretta, whose team became the first in 500 history to be owned, driven and predominately crewed by women.
“We had a terrific first outing,” Paretta said. “The women on the crew did a great job. The pit stops were pretty smooth. We need a little improvement in some places and there’s some work to do on our consistency, but great job overall.”
In a first for IndyCar, four women were part of the over-the-wall crew on pit stops — Madison Conrad, Caitlyn Brown, Amanda Frayer and Mallorie Muller. Other women on the team were aero engineer Lauren Sullivan, junior data acquisition engineer Chelsea Pechenino, tire specialist Sara Durant and Turn 3 spotter Ayla Agren.
The team received technical assistance from Team Penske, with men working to train, advise and mentor the women.
“They’ve really come a long way since they all got together months ago, and it shaped up into a pretty good team today,” said Michael Nelson, who served as team strategist Sunday. “We didn’t have the result we wanted. We were behind the eight ball a little bit from qualifying, but the car was a lot better today and we were able to move forward a bit and make some passes.”
Their day started with a pit-road talk with St. James, the 1992 Indy 500 rookie of the year who qualified for the race seven times. When she finished, some on the team wiped away tears, as did St. James.
De Silvestro started 33rd after a dramatic run on the last day of qualifying, and she moved up before she encountered brake problems entering the pits and spun.
“We went out there and I think we were quite speedy, particularly at the end,” de Silvestro said. “Kudos to everyone who put so much work into it. Unfortunately, I ran out of brakes a little bit and I couldn’t really save it there at entry. Maybe I could have done something a little different, but it’s pretty disappointing to end the day like this. The whole month everyone did such a great job, and we’re proud of the effort. It was really good to be back in an IndyCar and I hope for more.”
Paretta has said she hopes to run more IndyCar races, although no announcement has been made.